Background Helped Callahan Sharpen His Skills for Blades
Mike Callahan thought his hockey career was over.
When he moved from Toronto to Southern California six years ago, Callahan packed his skates and stick away. The way he figured, the Los Angeles Kings had a better chance of reaching the Stanley Cup final than he did of finding a place to play competitive hockey.
Six years later, the Kings with star Wayne Gretzky have a Stanley Cup final appearance under their belts. And Callahan, a Santa Fe Springs resident, is the leading goal scorer for Los Angeles’ professional roller hockey team, the Blades.
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Callahan is not terrorizing goaltenders on a pair of ice hockey skates, but his prowess on a pair of in-line skates has put him on the cutting edge of a new sport. He has scored 11 goals and has seven assists for the Blades, which are 6-3 and in third place in Roller Hockey International’s Pacific Division.
“My strength is putting the puck in the net,” said Callahan, a 6-foot, 210-pound forward. “That’s what the team looks for me to do, and that’s what I try to get done.”
Roller Hockey International is in its second year. The league has 20 franchises in the United States and four in Canada.
The Blades, which play home games at the Forum, will play a 22-game schedule this season, 16 against division opponents Anaheim, San Jose, San Diego, Oakland and Las Vegas. The top four teams from each of the league’s four divisions qualify for the playoffs.
Each team’s roster has 12 skaters and two goaltenders. Players in the league earn a minimum of $6,000 for the season. They can make as much $20,000 for winning the championship.
The size of concrete or synthetic roller-hockey rinks vary, but they are roughly equivalent to an ice hockey rink. Many of the rules are the same, but there are some differences. In ice hockey, for example, there are three lines marking the ice to dictate off-sides and other violations. In roller hockey there is only a center line. Ice hockey is played five-on-five with a goaltender for each team. Roller hockey is played four-on-four with a goaltender.
“With only four guys out there, there is a lot of room to maneuver on offense,” Callahan said. “And if you lose your man on defense, you’re in trouble.”
Callahan, who owns a credit consulting firm in Burbank, has had no trouble adjusting to hockey on wheels since joining the Blades for its inaugural season last year.
He has been playing ice hockey since he was 5, and ascended through various organized leagues in Canada until a knee injury ended his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
After marrying and settling in Southern California, Callahan hooked up with the California Hawks, a semi-pro ice hockey team based in Anaheim that competes in the Pacific Southwest Hockey League.
Last year, he was invited to join the Blades for its inaugural season, and scored 17 goals in 11 games. In May, he traveled to Japan with an RHI all-star team. He scored two goals and had an assist during an exhibition before 7,000 fans.
“Some guys just have an instinct to find the net,” Blades goaltender Brad Sholl said. “With Mike, no matter what he does or where he goes, he manages to get a goal a game.”
Last season, the Blades advanced to the semifinals of the playoffs before the team was eliminated by Anaheim. The league has doubled in size this season, but Callahan said the Blades, which play Sunday at home against San Diego, are capable of winning the championship.
Like many of the players in the RHI, Callahan is thrilled to be a pioneer in what he predicts will become an increasingly popular sport.
“Last year, no one knew what to expect, but the sport is catching on,” Callahan said. “When I first moved here, you’d never see kids out on the street playing hockey. Now, you see them all over the place on (in-line skates) with hockey sticks.
“Gretzky, the Kings and the (Anaheim) Mighty Ducks have a lot to do with that,” Callahan said. “And hopefully, the Blades can help take it to another level.”